His Sicilian Cinderella(2)

By: Carol Marinelli

The suits, the clothes, the designer stubble were all an image that Matteo had created merely to survive.

This morning he was asking her to join him and his close friend Luka for a new kind of life in London.

Bella knew that Luka would have asked Sophie to come with him.

Sophie, though, had told Bella that she and Luka were over and that she was making her way to Rome tonight. She had begged Bella to join her but Bella had said no, that she could not leave her mother.

Maria, even if she was only thirty-four, was frail and sick, though she did her best not to let it show.

Matteo had said to Bella that if it was what it took to get Bella to leave then she could bring her mother along.

He would take care of them both.

Bella sat in a rumpled bed, wearing nothing but a smile on a morning when other hearts were breaking.

‘The plane leaves at nine...’ Matteo said, and he sat down on the bed and picked up a long strand of Bella’s hair and tucked it behind her ear. ‘Please be there.’ Now he looked into Bella’s vivid green eyes. They were clear, they were bright and he knew, if she stayed here in Bordo Del Cielo, very soon they would be faded and vacant.

‘If you don’t get away this morning, Malvolio will have you working in the bar tonight and I shan’t be there to...’

Save you.

He didn’t say the words out loud but they hung unsaid in the air between them.

‘If you stay,’ Matteo continued, ‘then as of tonight you’ll be working and I’m telling you now, Bella—I don’t want to date a working girl, I don’t want there to have been anyone else.’

‘Double standards, Matteo...’ Bella pointed out, given how they had arrived at this point.

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘That is how I feel. Bella, I want to make a completely new start. I am done with this way of living. Tomorrow Malvolio wants me to start to avenge all the people who spoke against him during the trial...’

Bella shivered.

Malvolio, Luka and Sophie’s father Paulo had been in prison for the past six months awaiting trial—a lot had been said against Malvolio. The people had believed that there was enough against him that he would surely be put away for life.

Instead, he was back and taking charge again.

‘I have to get out because I don’t want to do the things he has planned for me,’ Matteo reiterated. ‘Kill once and you’ll always be a killer. It’s not who I want to be. I want an honest life and I am going to make something of myself. I’ll have enough trouble explaining my own past, I don’t want yours bringing me down.’

Harsh words perhaps but for Matteo they were honest ones.

He was offering her an out and he still did not know if she would take it so he made it very clear this was her one chance to be with him.

‘Once a whore and you’ll always...’

‘I get it,’ Bella said.

‘Good,’ he continued. ‘And, for the record, I don’t have double standards—I’ve never paid for sex. Last night was never about money.’ He said it even as he emptied his wallet for her. He took out every note that he had and this morning he had plenty. He laid the wad of cash beside her on the bed. ‘I’m giving you money to get out, not for last night. If your mother refuses to come you can give her this cash to help tide her over.’

Bella could still scarcely believe what he was offering. She was eighteen but Matteo Santini had long been her dream. Now he sat on the bed where they had made love and offered her a new life.

Was it foolish to dream that her life really would be with him? That what they had found in this room could survive the outside world?

It felt far from foolish. Now, as the clock nudged six, life felt terribly simple and as he took her naked, warm body in his arms, the future looked deliciously clear.

‘I’ll take care of you,’ Matteo said, and his kiss promised her that he would.

The wool of his suit, the sharp scent of his cologne both wrapped around her and she was lost to his mouth.

It was a slow, lingering kiss that confirmed how they were both feeling because, had time not been against them, Matteo would have shed his clothes and joined her in the bed that had provided their haven last night.

Instead, he drew her in closer to him. Her body was pliant, lazily relaxed and soft, and he smiled down when he stopped kissing her, though he didn’t release her from his firm embrace. ‘Don’t you dare go to sleep when I’m gone.’

‘I shan’t.’ Bella smiled. ‘Don’t go just yet. Surely there is a little more time.’

She was nervous of Matteo leaving. Worried that once he stepped outside the door he might change his mind.